Psychologist blasts RCMP’s handling of officers’ mental health issues

Canada’s largest police service “betrays” its officers by failing to develop a national mental health strategy, says a Mountie turned psychologist.

“There’s known risks to police work. We know that it puts people’s physical and mental health at risk, so I think organizations have an obligation to care for their employees,” said Dr. Jeff Morley, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sgt. who now counsels emergency service workers, military personnel, and corrections officers in B.C.

Morley is calling out the agency following the death of RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, who hung himself July 29. Lemaitre — who was the initial spokesman for the Mounties following the stun-gun death of Polish tourist Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport in 2007 — was wrongly accused of misleading the public in the case.

While Morley is unfamiliar with the details of Lemaitre’s case, little is known about the mental health of police officers who often suffer in silence.

The rates of psychological distress among Canadian cops are anyone’s guess, as no one is formally monitoring them.

“Why aren’t we sort of keeping track of these things and paying attention to this so that we can learn?” asked Morley. “What are our problems? What are our rates?”

Cops are exposed to “unimaginable atrocities” each day, said Morley, and post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious concern that’s been “ignored or inadequately addressed” for a long time, adding depression, addictions, and other issues go hand in hand with police work.

The Mounties are “committed to protecting the health, safety and well-being of all its employees,” said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Greg Cox, adding they “strive to create and promote a safe work environment and healthy workforce …”

RCMP officers have “direct access to the Canadian medical and psychological practitioner of their choice, inclusive of general physicians, psychiatrists, and community-based psychologists,” and are granted six hours of individual or group counseling with an approved psychologist without a referral or authorization.

The problem with that model, Morley said, is psychologists have to write a report to the RCMP stating why that person is being treated when they submit an invoice.

“If I’m working through something … do I want my employer to know what it is? I may or may not,” he said.

While counseling is confidential for city cops in Ontario, “it’s not for the RCMP in Ontario, so I think there’s issues around that,” said Morley.

“I think issues around stigma are still very present in policing.”

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All police services need to have programs for:

Stigma reduction
Early screening & detection
Robust peer support programs
Good professional support programs
(Source: Dr. Jeff Morley)

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